Can wellbeing evidence inform students’ study and career choices?

Which course graduates go on to have better wellbeing outcomes?In Figure 1 below we can see the proportion of graduates in each subject who report very high subjective wellbeing. This suggests the subject students choose impacts the levels of life satisfaction, happiness, feelings of worth and anxiety.Graduates who study education and subjects connected to medicine appear to do very well in all four dimensions of subjective wellbeing. They score similarly to the UK general population (as recorded by the ONS in 2018/19).Languages, creative arts and mass communications graduates consistently report lower levels of subjective wellbeing than their peers and the UK general population.Other subjects show a mixed success story. For example, medicine and dentistry students are likely to be very satisfied with their life, and feeling what they do is highly worthwhile. Yet they score significantly worse than the UK average in terms of happiness and anxiety. Those in veterinary science also present mixed outcomes: they rank lowest in happiness and anxiety, but they rank fourth – and much higher than the graduate average – on feelings that what they do is worthwhile. Looking beyond salary prospectsThe literature on work and wellbeing supports a ‘look-beyond-salary’ paradigm shift. The evidence shows that the wellbeing benefits we obtain by participating in the labour market are driven by many other factors apart from (and not in replacement of) wages. Employment also offers  job security, a sense of agency and autonomy, interpersonal contact, opportunities for skills use, time structure, physical security, a valued social position, and a sense of purpose*. Jobs that offer such a range of capabilities and conditions to fulfill our material and psychological needs are what we call good quality jobs.Magdalena Soffia.
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